How to File Divorce in D.C.

Filing a divorce in D.C.

The Capital City is a beautiful place, but not every marriage can survive the pressure of the town. If you are considering filing for divorce in Washington, D.C., here are some things you need to know.

1. You have to live there

Either you or your spouse must be a resident of Washington, D.C. for six months before you can file for divorce in the district.

2. Grounds for divorce

Washington D.C. has only no-fault grounds for divorce.  That means a couple can get divorced simply because each spouse wants to go their separate ways.  

Unfortunately, D.C. requires a couple to essentially prove that divorce is right for them by living separately for a fairly long period of time before the divorce can be finalized. Couples without kids have to be separated six months before filing for divorce, and couples with kids must be separated for one year before filing.  

The separation period requires each spouse to mutually and voluntarily live separate and apart without cohabitation.  

That basically means one or both spouses has to move out of the family home and each has to have their own place.  Some couples struggle to afford that and may try to live “separately” under the same roof.

That can be risky, though.  

A judge could find that a couple sleeping in different bedrooms but still paying a mortgage together are not actually living separately.

3. Money and children

Child custody after divorce

At the time of a divorce, the courts will generally also resolve additional issues. They are almost always resolved by agreement, but if the spouses cannot agree the judge must decide. Perhaps the most important issue is child support. Anyone that cares for a child can file for support and seek to have one of the child’s parents pay part of the cost of raising the child. The D.C. government provides guidelines to assist judges in setting child support.

The guidelines look to numerous factors, such as the parents’ incomes, how many children the parents have, how much time each parent has the children, the cost of childcare, and the cost of health insurance.  

The D.C. courts will also resolve custody issues.  

Parents can have both legal and physical custody over their children.  Legal custody is the right to make major decisions like where the child goes to school.  Physical custody is having the child live with you.

The law presumes that joint custody is in the best interest of the child unless there is some reason the court finds that the parents should not share custody.  

The court can also divide up a couple’s assets at divorce.  

The court will first establish what of the couple’s property is separate and what is marital.  Property acquired before the marriage, or by gift or inheritance during the marriage, is generally separate.  Almost anything a spouse acquires during a marriage is considered jointly owned by both spouses.

This marital property is split up, sometimes evenly and sometimes after a judge considers a number of factors.  The factors include the duration of the marriage and age and earning potential of each spouse.

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